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OK. Let's cut to the chase. The holiday season is about gift giving.


Admit it! Whether it's Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or Festivas, this holiday gives us a perfect excuse to tell somebody we love them in the best way we know how – spending money on them.


So, we spend countless hours doing things most of us don't like (sitting in traffic, standing in lines, throwing away future financial security) just to make that special someone happy. The key is to find something that they'll actually like and use.


Here's where I can help. Because if you're reading this you are closely connected to someone who runs (or jumps or throws). If I know anything, I know what they want. They want to be better at what they do. That requires gimmicks – excuse me – equipment. Nothing says I love you like the gift of a competitive edge. Here's my top-10 holiday packages for the track athlete in the family.


#10. Reading Material


Books are always good. There is no shortage of subjects. Books about diet, training, psychology of an athlete or running fiction top the list. “Athlete's Kitchen” by Nancy Clarke is an old standard. There are dozen's of books on methodology such as training the Lydiard way. Avoid the Galloway method unless you're into competitive walking! Sometimes an athlete needs a new mental approach to running. I find it easier to buy them a book than to try to reason with them. My two favorite fictional standards are “Once a Runner” by John Parker and “The Purple Runner”. The latter is out of print. You can spend up to $75.00 on E-Bay to find a used copy. Lastly, there's always a simple running diary.


P.S. There are also subscriptions to running magazines. I know it is too late to get the first issue mailed on time. Instead, buy a copy at Borders and include a note that they are in for 12 months of knowledge.


#9. Running Fashion


Go to any local running store and check out the array of clothes.   Spandex, wool, under armor, tanks, shorts, headbands. You name it they need it – in every possible color.   The key is to buy something that “looks fast”. If your athlete is the team leader, they can get away with almost anything. The stranger the better because they'll be the trend setter. I call it the "Marcus Vaughn factor". If your child is still in the “emerging athlete” category you're better off just copying what the captain wears. Keep your ears open. Any sentence that includes the words “awesome”, “cool” and a familiar name is likely to lead you in the right direction.


#8. Nutrition


Power bars make good stocking stuffers. Avoid the term “food pyramid”! Runner's World publishes articles on runner's diets. You can buy the ingredients, put them in a box and include the recipe. Or just give a gift certificate to a pre-meet meal. Try Olive Garden or Papa Ginos for distance runners or Longhorn Steakhouse for sprinters and throwers. Avoid any supplements from Balco Industries. Now let me get serious for a moment. Success doesn't come in pill form, but problems can. I've seen college athletes suspended from competition because they took what they thought was a harmless over-the-counter supplement from a reputable store.


#7. Protection from the cold


There's fashion – then there's practical fashion. Sooner or later (unless Al Gore is right) it is going to get very cold. Hats, ear muffs, running gloves, scarves, LAYERS OF ANYTHING, and scientifically engineered undergarments are all welcome. Thirty degrees (Fahrenheit) and over you still have to make fashion sense. When the temperature dips below 0 degrees centigrade it can come from Christmas Tree Shops and still be the best gift they ever got.


#6. Motivation


Unless you want to get them a session with the Dali Lama, you have to go with the media approach. Buy them a copy of any Pre movie. That's Pre as in Prefontaine! For non-Pre entertainment I like “Chariots of Fire”. It might be dated but it gets the message across. If you can't make up your mind give them a Blockbuster gift card. Not many athletes are into motivational tapes, unless it's music. Do a search on the message board for inspirational songs and you'll find an endless list.   You'll also find a lot of rude and obnoxious posters but that's the price you pay for freedom of speech. There are also I-Pods for bringing that music along for a run.


#5. Pampering


Don't let them convince you that tanning sessions or pedicures will make them a better runner. A gift certificate for a sport's massage can be beneficial before or after a meet. Make sure the masseuse knows the difference.


#4. Technology


There are sport watches and pulse watches. There are GPS watches and body composition scales. There are gimmicks, gadgets, doodads, electrical thing-a-mabobs etc. There are elliptical trainers or memberships to Gold's Gym, Balley's (the health club, not the casino) the YMCA or Fitness-R-Us. Remember that famous line from a movie. “Build it and they will buy it!”


#3. Strength


I know you did the very best you could genetically. But maybe that just wasn't enough. Perhaps you could assuage your guilt with an in-home gym. Or maybe a set of “heavy hands. “   There are weight belts, weight vests, ankle weights, dumbbells, medicine balls, ab rollers, plyometric boxes and physio-balls.


#2. Speed


If you can't afford a lifetime membership to Velocity, there are plenty of speed-training devices. Try speed-chutes, speed traps, bungee trainers, speed ladders or even a simple stop watch. A word of caution on the last item. Get a real stopwatch. If you pay $9.99 or less they will never take it out of their gym bag (hey, that's another neat gift). You can get a good multi-split watch at MFAthletic for under $30. Or, if you have to be the best on the block spend over $300.00 for one that gives a print-out.


#1. Footwear


Good shoes are a necessity. Go to a store where they know what they're talking about. Shoes are event-specific. Ask for a discount and let them know that when your child wins the Olympic Gold they just might mention that very store as the “best running store in the free world!”


Then there are competition shoes. There are special shoes for throwers, jumpers, sprinters, mid-distance, distance, hurdles etc. If your athlete is a competitive runner they'll need spikes. Then they'll need spikes to go into the spikes. Then a spike wrench to change spikes. Then a new pair of shoes when they strip the spike and can't get it out. Or, worst of all – you bought them unlucky spikes instead of the ones that the “cool kids” wear.  


If you've already given them more pairs of shoes than the Stanford cross country team, buy them an implement. That would be an indoor shot, outdoor shot, overweight shot, underweight shot, starting block, high jump mats with standard and bar ($3,000 give or take), javelin, discus, etc.


Now that you know what to buy, what's keeping you? On your marks, get ready, SHOP!